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Better Place swaps electric taxi batteries in Tokyo

E-car services company opens a battery-swapping site in Tokyo, arguing that switching out is better than rapid charging.

Better Place, the electric-car services company, has installed a battery-switching station for electric taxis in Tokyo, part of a test to demonstrate the viability of swapping out rather than rapid charging.

Three crossover taxis have been converted to run on an electric powertrain using batteries from A123 Systems, Better Place said Monday. The 90-day test is using an automated battery-swapping station developed by Better Place and demonstrated last year in Yokohama, Japan.

A battery changing station developed by Better Place. Better Place

Vehicles drive up an elevated ramp, and a machine removes a depleted battery and slides in a fresh one in under five minutes. Better Place asserts that this method is better than rapid charging, which causes more wear and tear on batteries. Longer charge times, in the range of 20 or 30 minutes, are also impractical for taxis, it said.

The Tokyo trial, first announced last August, will feature three cars rather than four as originally planned and is happening a few months later than anticipated. Better Place is working with taxi operator Nihon Kotsu, which will make the cars available to the public via a special taxi line.

Kiyotake Fujii, president of Better Place Japan, said in a statement that other cities have expressed interest in electric taxis because they reduce air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. He said Tokyo has about 60,000 taxis, representing a large potential market for electric vehicles.

In January, Better Place raised $350 million and said it expects its first full-fledged charging stations and battery-swapping sites to start operating in Israel and Denmark by the end of 2011.